Book Review: Pretty Amy by Lisa Burstein
PROS:authentic, raw teen voice
CONS:relentlessly downward spiral wears on your soul
Burstein writes this teenage misfit coming-of-age tale like she’s currently living the nightmare of it, with a strong, assured hand and a sharp tongue.
Amy, or “Pretty Amy” as she’s trained her parrot AJ to call her, is on her way to having a memorable prom night. She and her best friends Lila and Cassie have their dates lined up, prom-appropriate makeup and dresses on, and plenty of cigarettes to be dramatically smoked. Conditions are perfect for prom perfection.
But when the girls get stood up, Amy’s perfect prom night dissolves before her eyes. Determined to make the best of a bad sitch, the gals grab some unattended drugs from Lila’s boyfriend’s yard and hit the road to party. If you can’t finish the night off in your head, you obviously haven’t seen enough PSAs. Flashing lights, handcuffs, and fingerprinting are the “night to remember” these girls get.
Suddenly Amy finds herself in deep, permanent record-marking, put-your-life-plans-on-hold trouble. What’s more, she is cut off from her friends, the same friends who got her in to this mess in the first place. The ones she would do anything for—even if it costs her freedom. Her parents don’t understand her, can’t relate to her, and become increasingly desperate to help her in their own misguided way.
Amy has an authentic, raw teen voice, the sort that is as prematurely cynical and world-weary as Holden Caulfield. It is as frustrating to view the world, Amy’s friends, and her family through her cracked and jaded lense as it is to watch Holden Caulfield burrow deeper into his warped and cynical worldview, all the while making bigger and bigger mistakes. As with Holden, it’s easy to relate to Amy’s struggle to fit in, her feelings of alienation, and her desire to do anything to make those feelings go away.
At the risk of sounding like the tie-dyed shirt-wearing hack of a therapist Amy is forced to see, I will say it was clear that Amy suffers from poor body image, loneliness, and the tendency to define herself completely in relation to others—the uncomfortable state of being for many teenage girls. Even so called “popular” girls struggle to fit in and keep their place in the alpha pack (and the handful of girls who don’t feel this way are most likely aliens or androids).
From the reader’s perspective, as Amy’s life becomes more of a train wreck, it becomes more and more interesting. Is it shadenfreude that keeps the pages turning so quickly? I don’t know, but I was completely sucked in to her dark self-destruction spiral, mostly because of her voice. She was never too defeated to snark it up about everything and everyone around her. And while sometimes you feel like screaming “come ON!” and slapping some sense into her, it was still FUN snark and apathy. Amy’s like Juno with a rap sheet instead of a pregnancy.
Burstein writes this teenage misfit coming-of-age tale like she’s currently living the nightmare of it, with a strong, assured hand and a sharp tongue. While I can’t say it was entirely enjoyable read (you’re in Amy’s head and she’s freefalling through some pretty rough stuff), I couldn’t put it down, and I won’t soon forget Amy’s voice.
Check out the book trailer: